HOBOKEN MATTERS: BOE CANDIDATES

 

It's that time again, and even though this may feel like a "smaller" election, it is one that is very important for our city. The members of the Board of Education play play a crucial role in the growth and success of our school system. 

 

To gain a better understanding of each candidate, LH sent each one  the exact same questions. Some candidates are running as a slate, meaning that they are running as a team and others are running independently. When voting, you are still able to vote for each candidate individually, so this year we asked each candidate to answer their questions individually. The responses below are 100% unedited & unchanged in any way.

 

 

The questions were sent to ALL candidates. Patricia Waiters did not respond. 

Order of listing does not reflect any endorsement or preference. 

This is a non-sponsored post, and serves informational purposes only.

For more information on either team, click the team picture to visit their website and/or FB pages. 

 

 

 

SHWETA GURSAHANI

 

How long have you lived in Hoboken, and do you have children in the Hoboken Public School system?

I have two children in the public school system, my daughter, Myra (6) in 1st grade and my son, Kian (4) in PreK4. Hoboken has been home to us for two years now, and we love the schools, the parks, the activities and most of all the caring community that has enveloped us in its warmth.

 

Hoboken Public Schools are still a reason people give for wanting to move to suburbia. What do you think is the biggest misconception about our schools, and what would you like the community to know?

There is a common misconception that Hoboken public schools, especially the high school is not up to par with the suburbs. While there is always room for improvement (part of the reason we should not get complacent, and we need fresh ideas and perspectives), it has been our experience (my husband, Kamal and I) that the quality of Pre-K and elementary school education is excellent. Hoboken middle and high schools have innovative programs and curriculums of study. Some facts for disbelievers in the Hoboken public school system:

· Hoboken High School class of 2019 earned $14MM in academic scholarships! 97% of graduates headed off to two or four year college programs, on par with many suburbs. 

· Hoboken Middle School has a Passport to Wellness Golf Program!

 

What motivates you to become a member of the BOE, and what is your experience in public education?

My biggest motivation to become a member of the BOE are my two kids that are participants in Hoboken public schools and all of the children that live in the Hoboken community. My motivation is to make this school district the best one in the country for these little stars and to let them shine through to their full potential. It is to ensure that we are constantly evolving and growing and reaching greater heights. 

 

My educational background is steeped in STEM learning, with an undergraduate degree in Engineering and two graduate degrees (one in Management Studies and one in Financial Engineering from Columbia University). I am also deeply passionate about the Arts. I have worked in production (theatre and film), and have a passion for photography. My photos have been shown at SoHo Photo Gallery and Houston Center for Photography, and have been published in the Metro newspaper. My background gives me a well-rounded perspective on education and the development of young minds. Also, the Board of Education manages the budget for the school district and I have developed sharp financial acumen in the course of my work in financial services, to aid in this responsibility.

 

As a member of the BOE, do you see yourself as a representative of the community or of the school system? What does that mean to you?

As a member of the BOE, I believe you are a representative of the school system that answers to the community. The two are not mutually exclusive, and at the end of the day, it is the Board’s responsibility to ensure that the school system does its best to address the needs of the kids in the community to its best ability.

 

What do you think is the school system’s greatest challenge right now, and what are your plans to address this?

I believe that the biggest challenge that the Hoboken public school system currently faces is a lack of communication between schools, and the challenge of a district that is growing rapidly. While the number of our elementary and Pre-K classrooms have grown, our middle and high school has not. The challenge in the future will be to find physical space for these schools as more and more kids stay in the public school system. We also face a situation where we have eager parents with great ideas, that want to help develop the school district, but they aren’t feeling heard. To address these challenges, I plan to improve communication between the district schools, between the schools and parents, and basically to try and implement some of these great ideas (keeping in mind the constraints of budget and time). We need to listen carefully to parent feedback and take suggestions seriously. 

 

One of the most common comments/ questions we hear about the school district is, “The elementary schools have improved, but I don’t know if I want my child staying in the public district for middle or high school.” What is your response to this?

The Hoboken Middle and High School Programs have improved greatly in the past many years. The high school graduation rate has gone from 75% to 94% over the past 5 years. This are the signs of a rapidly improving school district. There are innovative programs in the middle and high schools, such as Classrooms Without Walls that will be taking children to Greece this year!

 

We don’t expect all members of the board to agree on all issues, but how one deals with conflict is often telling. How would you describe your communication and conflict resolution style? 

My communication style is open and inclusive. To resolve conflict, I believe in constructive discussion, where all parties are treated respectfully and all ideas are evaluated fairly and a resolution is reached that is in the best interest of those most affected. (our kids!)

 

Parent Facebook groups are big in town and are often where issues are raised, members of the board are tagged, where issues can escalate. How do you/ would you handle social media being such a part of the community conversation?

I believe social media has made it possible for all of us in the community to opine on the subject of the well-being of our kids and is a great way to bind a community together. It is true that issues can also escalate in such circumstances, but I believe that some moderation by a reasonable person, can resolve issues with all parties being heard.  That being said, the first place that parents should turn with issues is their child’s classroom teacher. 

 

What is your reason for running on a slate or as an independent, and what would you like the community to know about your position?

I am running as an independent. I believe that as an independent, I am evaluated purely on my own merit and qualifications. I have the freedom to stand for my own values. I am not a fan of the “slate machine”. I believe that back in the day, it was a good way to stand up to corruption in the public system, but in this day, it is unnecessary.

 

What can you tell us about special education services in Hoboken and how will you support the needs of special needs children?

Hoboken is a district for children of all levels and abilities. Hoboken school district has a great special needs program with well-qualified instructors, and I am a strong supporter of maintaining and improving that program.

 

Bonus! Let’s end on a fun note – tell us your 3 favorite things about Hoboken!

My 3 favorite things are: Brunch at Turning Point, Monroe Center, Tree House Park on the water, waterfront views, Movies in the Park, The World’s Biggest Band as organized by The Guitar Bar, the warm community, Columbus Park, the excellent schooling system, Amanda’s Restaurant, Pilsner Haus & Biergarten, walkability….did you say three?

 

 

ALEX DELATORRE

 

How long have you lived in Hoboken, and do you have children in the Hoboken Public School System?

I have lived in Hoboken for 12 years.  My two children have been in the Hoboken Public School District from day one.  They have been at Brandt and are currently attending Wallace Elementary and Hoboken Middle School.

 

Hoboken Public Schools are still a reason people give for wanting to move to suburbia.  What do you think is the biggest misconception about our schools, and what would you like the community to know?

I believe the biggest misconception about our schools is that they are not very good.  Nothing can be further from the truth. I believe our schools offer a robust, rigorous and enriching education.  My children have benefited from a diverse student body and a well prepared, dedicated & compassionate group of educators and support staff.  Not to mention programs such as Passport to Learning/Wellness and extra curriculars like band, chorus and our award-winning theatre program.

 

What motivates you to become a member of the BOE, what is your experience in public education?

Ensuring that the momentum achieved thus far in the public schools not only continues but surpasses our expectations is behind my motivation to continue serving as a member of the BOE.  Serving on the Board of Education for the past 8 months as an appointed member has been a great experience thus fur and one I hope I can continue to build upon.  

 

As a member of the BOE, do you see yourself as a representative of the community or of the school system? What does that mean to you?

I believe I am part of both.  As a member of the BOE, I clearly bring these perspectives with me (along with my own personal experiences) However, it’s my responsibility to work cohesively with my fellow board members to ensure that the vision and mission of the administration comes to fruition.

As a parent I want nothing but the best education for my children. As a tax payer and member of the community I want the entire school district to succeed because the whole community benefits from having strong public schools.

  

What do you think is the school system’s greatest challenges right now, and what are your plans to address this?

One of our most pressing challenges is space.  We have a good problem in that more and more families are recognizing the value of our public schools which has caused our enrolment to sky rocket with no signs of slowing.  I plan to work alongside Dr. Johnson and my fellow board members to continue re-calibrating our long-range plan to accommodate our growing population with consideration to the broader community.

 

One of the most common comments/questions we hear about the school district is, “The elementary schools have improved, but I don’t know if I want my child staying in the public district for middle school or high school.” What is your response to this?

Without question we need to do a better job of educating our community about all the great things being achieved by the students and staff at our Middle School and High School.  Here are a few highlights:

  1. Hoboken Middle School winners of Suit Up Competition (https://volunteersuitup.org/#overview)

  2. Hoboken Middle School worked with Stevens Institute of Technology to help design and build the all new Outdoor Activity Park and a Living Classroom

  3. Hoboken High School Debate Team won five awards at Harvard Model Congress Europe … most decorated team out of +30 schools from around the world

  4. Hoboken High School is one of approximately 1500 high schools nationwide to offer the AP Capstone diploma program from the College Board

  5. Hoboken High School ranked 5thin the Top 10 school districts in NJ for growth in AP Exams according to News 12

  6. Hoboken High School graduation requirements include Engineering and Computer Science for all incoming Freshmen

We don’t expect all members of the board to agree on all issues, but how one handles conflict is often telling.  How would you describe your communication and conflict resolution style?

I am a calm and collected individual who will always listen to differing points of view.  I like to gather as much information as possible before I make any type of decision. I always try to keep in mind that other people have had differences than my own so it’s important to understand where they are coming from.

 

Parent Facebook groups are big in town and are often where issues are raised, members of the board are tagged, where issues can escalate.  How do you/would you handle social media being such a part of the community conversation?

If anyone has an issue about their children or their child’s education, they should bring it to the attention of their teacher and principal immediately.  If it is not resolved to their satisfaction I would recommend a meeting with Dr. Johnson. I also encourage members of the community to attend school board meetings. It’s a great opportunity to learn about what is happening in all of the district schools.  Personally, I believe social media is great to build awareness, but I don’t believe it’s the right forum to debate and resolve issues.

  

What is your reason for running on a slate or as an independent, and what would you like the community to know about your position?

I am running alongside Sheillah and Joyce because they, as do I, believe in our public schools.  They are committed parents with a long history of contributing to our community and schools.  All of us recognize that we’ve come a long way as a district but want to ensure that we continue moving forward as a team working with Dr. Johnson and the rest of the Board.

 

What can you tell us about special education services in Hoboken and how will you support the needs of special needs children?

From personal experience and from the experiences other families have shared with me, our public schools go above and beyond for our special needs children.  I intend to continue supporting the needs of our special needs students across the entire district along with the needs of their teachers and staff.

 

BONUS! Let’s end on a fun note – tell us your 3 favorite things about Hoboken!

  1. It’s a COMMUNITY – I love walking down the street running into neighbors or friends making plans on the spot for dinner or drinks.

  2. It’s DIVERSITY – all walks of life are represented in our mile square city, especially in our schools … our daughters go to school with people from Serbia, Venezuela, Belgium and Australia just to name a few.

  3. It’s HISTORY – what a rich past … everything from Baseball, St. Ann’s Feast to Frank Sinatra!

JOYCE SIMONS

 

How long have you lived in Hoboken, and do you have children in the Hoboken Public School system?

My husband Don and I have lived in Hoboken for 12 years and our three children proudly attend the Hoboken Public School District.  Our oldest completed Pre-K and Kindergarten at Brandt and was moved to Wallace Elementary just as our twin girls were about to start Pre-K. They are now in the 5thand 2ndgrades.

 

Hoboken Public Schools are still a reason people give for wanting to move to suburbia.  What do you think is the biggest misconception about our schools, and what would you like the community to know?

We hate to see neighbors leave Hoboken for suburbia but the Hoboken Public Schools should not be their reason to move.  The biggest misconception about our schools is that you cannot stay past elementary school because the middle school and high school are “not good”.  That is far from the truth and that mistruth is quickly fading away.  It is all of our responsibility as community members and as parents of children who attend the district schools to dispel those rumors. My family has experienced first-hand the quality education and programming offered to district students. My son will be at the middle school next year and I am so excited for him! We urge prospective parents to talk with parents who have their children in the Hoboken Public School District as well. Visit the District website and take a look at the Program of Studies at the Middle School and High School. You will be blown away!

 

https://indd.adobe.com/view/9a99d4ef-247a-4079-925d-e250532c55ce

 

http://www.hobokenschools.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_2822288/File/Guidance/HHS%202019-2020%20Program%20of%20Studies%20(Pages)%20(3).pdf

 

What motivates you to become a member of the BOE and what is your experience in public education.

I truly believe that a great public education system directly impacts the quality of our community and I see that happening in Hoboken. Our own positive experience with the Hoboken Public Schools has motivated me to help keep the progress moving forward.  I promise to work hard to ensure there is fairness, equality, and success for children across the district.  

I grew up in Taiwan and my parents wanted the best education for me. So, at the age of 13, I came halfway around the world to attend boarding school in the United States.  Luckily for us, our children do not have to leave their hometown for the quality education they deserve, because they are getting it right here in Hoboken.  

 

As a member of the BOE, do you see yourself as representative of the community or of the school system? What does this mean to you?

I see it as both.  It is our job to ensure that all district students are receiving a premium education, that we are continuously raising the bar on student achievement and that we are offering students innovative extracurricular opportunities.  While doing this, we must ensure that we are responsible to the taxpayers of Hoboken.  Our entire community benefits from thriving public schools.  

 

What do you thinks is the school system’s greatest challenges right now and what are your plans to address it?

Great things are happening in the district and it is evident throughout the community that progress is being made.  The challenges that Hoboken faces are the same challenges that many school districts face- space, continuously increasing the bar on student achievement, continuously increasing the rigor and ensuring that the curriculum is relevant.

 

One of the most common comments/questions we hear about the school district is “the elementary schools have improved but I don’t know if I want my child staying in the public district for middle or high school”.  What is your response to this?

Years ago, when my children were approaching Pre-K, I asked the same questions and had similar thoughts. So, I got involved with the PTO and attended school board meetings and district events.  I met students and families who were in the school system and were happy and thriving. I began to realize that there were so many misconceptions and negative stigmas surrounding the schools.  Times have changed and those misconceptions are fading but there are plenty of opportunities to be part of our schools. Join the Community Book Club at Hoboken Middle School, attend Hoboken High School’s “Showcase of Excellence” or a theater production put on by the nationally recognized drama department. 

 

We don’t expect all members of the board to agree on all issues but how one handles conflict is often telling.  How would you describe your communication and conflict resolution style?

The Board of Education consists of 9 trustees who need to work together to support the vision of the district.  I believe in communication and collaboration to reach a common goal. Listening, discussing and understanding everyone’s position is imperative to work together and to move forward.

 

Parent FB groups are big in town and are often where issues are raised, members of the board are tagged, where issues can escalate.  How do you/would you handle social media being such a part of the community conversation? 

My belief is that while social media is a great forum for people to share their ideas and address their concerns, it can also become a rumor mill or a cause of unnecessary confrontation.  We have probably all experienced a certain tone through an electronic message that was not the intention of the sender or replier.  We need to be more cognizant and thoughtful of what we say.  It is a good place to raise a question, but I believe individual conversations are important. Follow the appropriate channels...talk to your child’s teacher, the school principal.  Come to a board meeting to gather information on what is going on in each of the district schools, join your school’s PTO.  Getting involved will naturally make you more informed. 

 

What is your reason for running on a slate or as an independent, and what would you like the community to know about your position?

I chose to run with Alex DeLaTorre and Sheillah Dallara as a team (3-4-5) because together we bring experience to the board. We have all dedicated our time and committed ourselves to the district and have each been a part of the progress we are seeing.  We bring diverse backgrounds with varying experiences and talents from our education and professional careers that will benefit the board of education’s oversight responsibilities.  We are confident that we are the right team to serve the district. We hope you will join us and vote 3-4-5 in column F on November 5th.

 

What can you tell us about special education services in Hoboken and how will you support the needs of special needs children?

Hoboken should be proud of our special education services that are offered throughout the district schools. A large student population benefits the extensive special education programming and services.  As a board member and a parent, I commit to supporting the educational needs of all district students.

 

Bonus!  Let’s end on a fun note- tell us your 3 favorite things about Hoboken.

This might be the toughest question since there are so many things to love about Hoboken.

The parks are high on the list.  There are so many of them to choose from and there is no need to arrange playdates for my children.  At any park we visit, the children will either find someone they know or make friends quickly and find someone to play with.

 

We just added a new member to our family last December…Baxter, a mini-bernedoodle. I love taking our puppy for long walks on the waterfront and playing with other dogs at the dog runs. We love eating at the different restaurants in town, there are endless options, but my children love La Isla, Ayame and Karma Kafe the most!

SHEILLAH DALLARA

 

 

 

How long have you lived in Hoboken, and do you have children in the Hoboken Public School System?

I have lived in Hoboken for 9 years and have two children in the Hoboken Public School district.  Felicity is a 3rd grade student at Wallace Elementary.  Alexander is in an inclusion 4th grade class at Wallace Elementary.  I also have an 8-week-old baby boy named Parker who is looking forward to joining his siblings as part of the Hoboken Public School District when he is ready. #futureredwings 

 

Hoboken Public Schools are still a reason people give for wanting to move to suburbia.  What do you think is the biggest misconception about our schools, and what would you like the community to know?

The biggest misconception about our schools is that they are static and have remained unchanged from what they were 5-10 years ago. There has been enormous change and progress in all aspects of education and socialization in our schools. Such as strong innovative programs and achievements for our very deserving high school and middle school students. Hiring strong administrators and talented teachers, which has been the direction of our district over the last 5-10 years is a major key to student achievement.  And last, but certainly not least, is parental involvement.  This is a necessity for our schools to grow, and has been a major driver of change and improvement across all schools. But you need all three ingredients for this continued growth and progress.  I believe that with dedicated and collaborative, diverse and team-oriented Trustees at the Board of Education level, the sky's the limit!

 

What motivates you to become a member of the BOE, what is your experience in public education? 

What motivated me to run for the Board of Education first in 2015, then in 2016, and now in 2019 is and has always been one person – Alexander “Z” Dallara. Alexander was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3.  For a period of time, he was not able to communicate through speech.  It is the Hoboken school district that gave him the gift of speech.  Ever since then, I have been determined to give back to the schools and all the students it serves because my family and I have seen first hand what this program and our educators can do, and I will be their biggest and loudest advocate. 

 

As a member of the BOE, do you see yourself as a representative of the community or of the school system?  What does that mean to you?

Board of Education members serve the children in the Hoboken public schools by ensuring equitable educational opportunities, as well as the community at large by being responsible stewards of tax money.  It is a balancing act of working within financial constraints while meeting the needs of all our students, whatever those may be. This is something very personal to me as a mother of a special needs student who requires additional services and supports through our school system.

 

What do you think is the school system’s greatest challenges right now, and what are your plans to address this?

I believe the school system’s greatest challenge is one that is also a strength, which is growing enrollment.  People believe in the changes, they see the progress is real.  What we need now is facilities that match our growing demand. .

 

One of the most common comments/questions we hear about the school district is, “The elementary schools have improved, but I don’t know if I want my child staying in the public district for middle school or high school.”  What is your response to this?

My response to anyone who is skeptical about Hoboken Middle School or Hoboken High School is simple.  I would tell them to join our Hoboken Middle School principal, Dr. Abraham for his early morning Cardio Club, where he takes his students on an intensive work-out at the school or along the Hudson River because of the importance of the mind body connection.  I would tell them to buy tickets for one of the district musicals to see our high school actors shine on stage.  I would tell them to follow the Hoboken Public School District on Twitter and Facebook to see all of the great work that these two schools are up to each and every day.  I would tell them to note that our high school AP scores have risen, our academic scholarships have gone from approximately 1.7 million dollars in 2015 to over 14 million this past school year.  I would tell them that we are committed to each and every student reaching higher and that everything I have done during my time on the Board thus far has been driven by that goal.

 

We don’t expect all members of the board to agree on all issues, but how one handles conflict is often telling.  How would you describe your communication and conflict resolution style?

It is listening and hearing, advocating for your position and beliefs and the reasons why, and then, when all else fails, leaving it to a vote. That's the way it's supposed to work when you're on a board. It's why there are 9 Trustees. As a Trustee, I also know how to protect the work of the BOE and the purpose of the BOE. I will always stand up for what I believe in and what I know is true and I will not back down from that because that would be shirking my elected duty.  I grew up playing sports, my favorite sport was rowing in college, because as a girl who grew up in Queens NY, rowing was a foreign concept, which meant I had to try it, and also because that's how I met my husband. The athlete in me believes in being a team player, and not making the situation about me.  I believe that teams come together when they are on the same page about bigger goals. So I will strive to always keep my eye on the bigger picture, our students. 

 

Parent Facebook groups are big in town and are often where issues are raised, members of the board are tagged, where issues can escalate.  How do you/would you handle social media being such a part of the community conversation?

Social media is an important tool for parental engagement.  It is natural for our community of parents, especially Moms, to turn to one another for support.  Our Moms are an incredible and powerful resource! However, while asking and answering questions on Facebook, or any other social media outlet, it is critical that parents use the other channels available to them, such as your child’s teacher, and your school principal.  In addition, we also have a Superintendent who is committed to meeting with parents and does so daily.  Her email and phone number are on the district website: http://www.hoboken.k12.nj.us/

 

What is your reason for running on a slate or as an independent, and what would you like the community to know about your position?

I am proud to be running with Alex De La Torre and Joyce Simons for many reasons. They each have track records of community involvement and, specifically being involved with and dedicated to the public school community as parents and, when called to do so, as Board Trustees. What unites us is a commitment to work with the Superintendent and our other colleagues to push for continued progress for our kids.  We all take our positions seriously and are not afraid to come up with ideas and be innovative with different ways to handle concepts and programs. We have each had our own successes and contributions to the Board.  We are determined to continue this legacy together and go further after the November 5th election.

 

What can you tell us about special education services in Hoboken and how will you support the needs of special needs children?

As I mentioned earlier, the District's Special Education Department has saved my son, as he is meeting milestones we didn't think were possible, all due to the amazing educators, paraprofessionals and support staff that work collectively to provide him with the tools needed to succeed in and out of school.  They have been our lifeline and source of support. Our special education department is lead by a visionary educator and former Teacher of the Year Winner, Mr. Mark Mautone. It is through his leadership and vision that our special education department is growing and meeting the needs of every student. If reelected to serve for another 3 year term, my focus and goal will always remain on ensuring this department continues on an upward trajectory and I will continue to work tirelessly for all our special education students and be a strong voice for them. 

 

BONUS! Let’s end on a fun note – tell us your 3 favorite things about Hoboken!

This is a tough one! I love so much about our city, but if I had to pick 3 it would be how amazing it is to live in a city where you can walk everywhere and bump into friends and neighbors along the way, our family’s favorite restaurant Northern Soul for offering delicious vegan options, and without a doubt raising our family here and calling Hoboken our forever home. 

 

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